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Co-op Live calamity: How the grand opening of the UK's biggest indoor venue fell apart

Olivia Rodrigo performs during the MTV Video Music Awards on Tuesday, Sept. 12, 2023, at the Prudential Center in Newark, N.J.
Olivia Rodrigo performs during the MTV Video Music Awards on Tuesday, Sept. 12, 2023, at the Prudential Center in Newark, N.J. Copyright AP Photo
Copyright AP Photo
By Jonny Walfisz
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Cancelled gigs, falling air conditioning units and resigning directors: the opening of Co-op Live was meant to be a great moment for Manchester.

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It’s been a rocky start for the latest venue in Manchester’s expanding cultural scene as two sold-out Olivia Rodrigo shows were cancelled last minute amid opening chaos.

The Co-op Live arena was meant to be the jewel in Manchester’s crown as part of its coronation as the UK’s new cultural hub. With the cost-of-living crisis pushing Londoners in their droves out of the capital, the northern city has long looked to become the next big deal.

There are lots of reasons to suggest that Manchester is the new booming cultural capital. Just last year, it saw the opening of Factory International in the brand new Aviva Studios building. The Aviva Studios is the biggest new cultural space the UK has invested in since the opening of the Tate Modern in 2000.

Then came Chanel. Last December, the city played host to the French courtier house’s Metiers d’art show with a catwalk stretching through the vibey Northern Quarter neighbourhood and was attended by celebrities including Hugh Grant, Tilda Swinton and Kirsten Stewart.

A model wears a creation during the Chanel Metiers d'Art show in Manchester Thursday, Dec. 7, 2023
A model wears a creation during the Chanel Metiers d'Art show in Manchester Thursday, Dec. 7, 2023Vianney Le Caer/2023 Invision

The opening of Co-op Live this Spring should have topped off the trifecta of cultural domination. Situated in the Etihad Campus next to the City of Manchester football stadium, the £365 million (€427 million) arena is the largest-capacity indoor venue in the entire country.

Reschedule, reschedule, reschedule

Ahead of a test event on Saturday 20th April, the venue cancelled over half the tickets. English singer Rick Astley performed to 4,000 of a planned 11,000 people in the 23,500 capacity venue. Power issues and concerns about crowd safety have been cited as the cause of the reduced crowd for the initial gig.

That was only the beginning of the problems. The official opening of Co-op Live was due for 23 April featuring beloved local comedian Peter Kay delivering two headline shows. Kay’s shows were delayed due to issues that arose during the Rick Astley test event.

Peter Kay performs at the Help for Heroes concert at Twickenham Stadium in London on Sunday, Sept. 12, 2010.
Peter Kay performs at the Help for Heroes concert at Twickenham Stadium in London on Sunday, Sept. 12, 2010.Mark Allan/AP

Kay’s gigs were rescheduled for the end of April, making the upcoming show by The Black Keys the new official opener. Both The Black Keys and Kay’s rescheduled events were rescheduled to later in May.

Finally, this week was the third opportunity for an official opening. On 1 April, A Boogie wit da Hoodie was scheduled to perform. With fans queued up outside the arena, the show was abruptly cancelled by the organisers though.

Fans were told to leave the arena due to a “technical issue” just 10 minutes before the opening act was set to come on stage. It has since been confirmed to the Manchester Evening News that the technical issue was part of an air conditioning unit falling from the gantry during a soundcheck.

Shortly after the A Boogie wit da Hoodie was cancelled, the two Olivia Rodrigo nights were called off. They’re yet to be rescheduled. “I'm sooooo disappointed that we're unable to perform in Manchester due to on-going venue-related technical issues,” Rodrigo wrote on Instagram.

Many fans of Rodrigo had already travelled to Manchester for the events over this Friday and Saturday. Although the singer did provide some consolation: “We're doing our best to reschedule the show. you can hold onto your tickets for further info or request a refund at your point of purchase.”

Co-op Live and the Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Month

It’s been a pretty devastating blow to the team behind the Co-op Live. While they are yet to cancel or reschedule upcoming events including concerts by Keane, Take That, Elbow and the rearranged gig by The Black Keys, it hardly looks a safe bet to assume they’ll go ahead as planned.

On a personnel level, Co-op Live has also been in disarray. The arena’s general manager and executive director Gary Roden quit on 25 April. Roden came under fire when he suggested to the BBC that smaller local venues were sometimes badly run in response to questions about a £1 (€1.17) levy on tickets to fund grassroots venues.

Naturally, Roden’s comments about poorly-run culture venues was a bit too on the nose and he “decided to resign.”

Olivia Rodrigo performs at the Glastonbury Festival in Worthy Farm, Somerset, England, Saturday, June 25, 2022
Olivia Rodrigo performs at the Glastonbury Festival in Worthy Farm, Somerset, England, Saturday, June 25, 2022Joel C Ryan/Invision

Co-op Live may be named after the Co-operative Group brand, but the organisation behind the arena is Oak View Group. The fiasco has even caused Co-op to speak out against the real estate company:

“As the naming rights sponsor for Co-op Live, we are shocked at the incident which has led to late cancellation of tonight’s show at the arena. We are relieved that no-one has been injured, but we share the disappointment and frustration of ticket holders, many of whom are Co-op members, with the continuing delay to the opening of Co-op Live and the disruption that this is causing to everyone who has been looking forward to attending events,” a Co-op spokesperson said.

“We will be seeking a full explanation from Oak View Group (OVG), who are responsible for the building, to the obvious questions arising from this, together with a clear plan from the Co-op Live venue management team at OVG for opening the venue and postponed and future events.”

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